For athletes who played traditional sports in high school, wrestling matches might have looked like two sweaty guys trying to push each other over. It wasn’t until the explosion in popularity of mixed martial arts that it became obvious that wrestling is actually a highly effective science of balance and leverage. While it can be difficult to learn how to wrestle once high school is over, that doesn’t mean the sport has nothing to offer you. In fact, everyone should have one wrestling move in his or her physical arsenal: the sprawl.
An elegant technique that immediately turns the tables on an opponent, the sprawl is used when someone tries to take you down, and done correctly, it can be a potent form of offense, as well. Whether you are practicing Brazilian jiu-jitsu, engaging in a street brawl or just fooling around with your big dumb friend who had too many beers at the barbecue, the sprawl works the same way. Your opponent will try to take you to the ground by getting low and tackling one or both of your legs, commonly known as “shooting a takedown.” To sprawl, you kick both legs backward and drop your torso down on top of his body, collapsing him like a house of cards.
“The idea is that you are going to use whichever hip they are trying to come in on you — say you have your left leg forward —like a punch and slam that hip to the ground as they come in to grab you,” says Chad “Savage” George, operation manager at PKG Training Center in Los Angeles, where he teaches his style of wrestling-based mixed martial arts. “When you throw your legs backward and slam that hip on the ground, it will prevent them from grabbing the leg they are trying to get and slams all your weight on top of them.”
Watch the signs: The sprawl is a simple move to perform, but the trick is in the timing. “There are all kinds of little tells you have to watch for,” George says. “Some guys will lean forward when they are going to shoot, and others will open their arms right before they shoot.”
Use your hands: You want to use every part of the opponent’s body to stop the takedown. During the sprawl, as your feet move backward, your hands come out to hit the person’s shoulders, slowing his momentum. It also puts your hands in the right spot after the sprawl, whether you go for a front head lock in wrestling, a guillotine choke in jiu-jitsu or MMA, or you post up so you can stand and get away.
Keep sprawling: When you successfully hit the sprawl, you will have pancaked your opponent to the ground, making him carry all your weight. Needless to say, it’s a horrible place to be for him, and he will start scrambling to get out from under you. “If the guy is a decent wrestler, he will try to adjust his takedown and go for the opposite leg,” George says. “What the sprawler will do is adjust the other hip and slam it down. Basically, you are walking on your hips, going backward.”
Get fit to sprawl: The beauty of the sprawl is that it uses the strongest muscles in your body — the hips, hamstrings and glutes — to stop the momentum of your opponent. By regularly squatting and deadlifting in the gym, your hip complex will become even stronger. If you add some burpees to your workout to groove the movement into your muscle memory and improve explosiveness, your sprawl will be impenetrable.
“The great thing about having a good sprawl is that it will quickly take your opponents’ confidence away,” George says. “If they try to take you down over and over and you just keep sprawling on them, they stop thinking about their shot and it becomes your world to do what you want.”